Want to know where I get all my business savvy? I read, a lot. In fact, I bang out at least a book each week. Not all of them are business related but most of them are.
You’ll find every business book I’ve ever read below.
For a book to make it on this list, I read it cover-to-cover. No skimming, skipping, or scanning allowed. You’ll find the book I just finished at the top.
If you’d like to know what I know, start here.
Russell Brunson is one of the up-and-coming info-product marketers. And his book is solid. Lots of great funnels, tactics, and a reliable strategy to build your own business. If you want to know how many of the experts run their funnels, this is a great place to start.
A book that should never have gone beyond a blog post. The framework is simple enough that the subtitle explains everything you need to know: make projects fast, inexpensive, restrained, and elegant. Then good things will happen. While it’s definitely a good idea, the book doesn’t have any additional depth beyond this. And the writing it atrocious, lots of tangents and constant failed attempts at humor. Skip it.
A book on scrum from the guy that created it. Everyone in management or project management should read this book.
I’ve seen this book come up as a recommendation so often that I figured it had to be amazing. I was wrong. It champions the philosophy of focus and the book is anything but focused. It addresses the same topics in a dozen slightly different angles, has shallow recommendations, and doesn’t tell you anything that you haven’t already heard from a random Lifehacker article. Skip it.
You Can Be a Stock Market Genius
Several strategies along with specific examples for how to beat a market index. If that’s a goal of yours, definitely pick this book up as a source of inspiration. It was originally published in 1997 which makes me doubt whether or not any of these strategies still work. Every game (especially investing) evolves over time. So tread carefully.
How Brands Grow: Part 2
Mostly a summary of the first How Brands Grow book. There’s a few new topics but nothing as groundbreaking as the first volume. But given how important and counterintuitive that these concepts are, you’ll want to read both books multiple times to make sure it all sinks in. Definitely read it.
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. If you manage a team or aspire to, you need to read this book. Each chapter breaks down a core leadership principle taught to Navy SEAL teams, a story of how the lesson was learned during combat operations in Iraq, and then applies the same lesson to a business context. Not only are these some of the most valuable lessons for you to learn, the stories make sure that you won’t forget them.
Against the Gods
The history of probability. But there’s a lot of tangents and superfluous detail throughout the entire book. You can safely skip this one.
A solid framework on the main biases that impact our decisions. If you’ve read much behavior psychology, few of the insights will be new to you. But it’s still a good framework that ties it all together.
Many fields have a superboss that find, recruit, and develop a disproportionate amount of talent in the field. And many of the biggest names can trace their careers back to that superboss. Jon Stewart being an example for comedy talent. Unfortunately, the book is poorly written, lacks structure, and offers horrible advice on how to become a superboss yourself. Even though it starts with a great premise, it completely fails to deliver anything other than a couple of anecdotes on the topic. Skip it.
One of those books that represents the worst side of tech optimism. How will we grow? Viral loops! How will we scale? Contractors, don’t own anything! What features should we build? Algorithms! The authors have hand-picked various details from success stories in tech and attempt to combine them into a list of requirements for future “exponential organizations.” The problem is that they also ignore any nuance around the execution or circumstances needed to properly take advantage of these ideas. And you’ll get the sense that the authors have spent more time reading Techcrunch articles than actually building companies themselves. Maybe I’m being too harsh but I got absolutely no value from this book.
The Sales Acceleration Formula
What I would have given to have this book 3 years ago. Hubspot is the company that just about every other B2B SaaS company is now trying to emulate. They’ve built one of the most effective SaaS lead and sales funnels out there. The book breaks down exactly how the SVP of Sales at Hubspot built their sales function. If you are in B2B sales or marketing, you need to read this book.
The inside story of how the Third Golden Age of TV came to be. The majority of the book focuses on the Sopranos and The Wire, The Shield, Deadfall, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad are also covered. The book doesn’t frame it as such but it’s a classic Innovator’s Dilemma. TV audiences were being underserved by bland and generic shows, and a few networks with nothing to lose began experimenting with new formats which took off. HBO, FX, and AMC weren’t beholden to the original TV format and partnered with writers that wanted to push TV in an entirely new direction. We’ve been enjoying the wave ever since. IF you’re a fan of these shows and enjoy learning how industries shift, you’ll enjoy the read.
4 Disciplines of Execution
One of the best management books that I’ve read in awhile. Running the week-to-week cadence of a team is absolutely critical to hit your company’s goals. Yet very few managers have spent time to perfect the weekly habits of their team. I was already doing about half of what this book recommends and implementing the rest is now my top-priority. If you want to run a high-caliber team, read this book.
From Impossible to Inevitable
I had incredibly high hopes for this book. Aaron Ross’ previous book (Predictable Revenue) is legendary within B2B tech companies. It is THE playbook for building an inside sales team. I’m also a huge fan of Jason Lemkin and his work, his blog and Quora answers are some of the most helpful SaaS content out there. But to be honest, this book was a let-down. Instead of another deep-dive on the Marketing and Sales inside sales model, the second half of the book bounces between management and self-help. Even the first-half isn’t ground-breaking if you’ve been following Jason Lemkin for awhile. If you’re completely new to the B2B SaaS game, pick it up. Otherwise, skip it.
Common Sense on Mutual Funds
A classic book on investing, written by John Bogle (founder of Vanguard). This book does dive into the weeds, there’s an exhaustive amount of detail. I would only recommend this book if you’re looking to go through the classics yourself. The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing and A Random Walk Down Wall Street give better overviews on investing.
Brick by Brick
The story of LEGO’s near-collapse and how it cam back from the edge. The book attempts to derive lessons on the types of innovation that leads to record-setting growth whereas the wrong type of innovation leads to bankruptcy. However, it seems like many of the problems with LEGO had nothing to do with innovation or the type of innovation that the company was pursuing. Poor management, lacking financial controls, and rampant cost over-runs brought the company to the edge. This has nothing to do with innovation, it’s simply poor management. Granted, I have no personal connection to LEGO so I’m not qualified to answer why LEGO almost failed. But the author does seem to be looking for patterns that aren’t there. Worth reading if you want some background on this iconic toy company but I’d be careful about drawing too many lessons for your own company.
How Brands Grow
One of those books that convinces you that everything your know about marketing is wrong. You’ll never look at brands, marketing, or growth the same way after you read this book. Seriously, drop what you’re doing and read it.
The Success Equation
This book does an excellent job at compiling the best work that’s been done in psychology, systems, and probability. If you haven’t read 50+ books on these topics already, you’ll get up to speed pretty quickly. Even if you have, it’s a great review of the core concepts. Highly recommended.
Mining Group Gold
A deep dive on everything that you should be doing to run effective meetings. The author worked at Xerox and has spent the majority of his career managing corporate meetings. Like a lot of business books, it does a poor job at reducing the frameworks down to the essential items that you should prioritize. So you’ll need to wade through the endless tactics and strategies to find a couple of nuggets that will make a tangible difference on how you run your own teams. Also, it definitely has a corporate slant to it. Many of the recommendations are definitely overkill for a small or medium size business. But it’s still valuable to see which frameworks work best in an enterprise environment.
2015 – 46 Total
The Trusted Advisor
Some good tactics for building trust with clients. But it could have been reduced to a blog post. Not an essential read.
Michael Lewis’ first book that goes into the story of Salomon Brothers, the leading bond investment bank in the 1980s. Michael Lewis joined the company at their peak so this is an insider’s account of their rise and fall.
The New New Thing
The story of Jim Clark and how he built 3 succesfull tech companies: Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. If you’re in tech, you need to read this book.
The Most Important Thing
One of my favorite new business books. If you want to push your investment returns beyond the aggregate returns of the market, this is where you want to start. There’s no “get rich quick” tactics and this is by no means easy. But the philosophies are sound. I’d avoid the “Illuminated” version that has extra anecdotes from other experts (here’s the normal version). The anecdotes don’t add any extra value and just interrupt the flow. Highly recommended.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
Another excellent book from Al Ries who also co-authored The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Both of these should be required reading for every marketer and executive. An updated version of this book also has 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. They’re pretty dated and don’t provide much value so feel free to skip that section.
One of my favorite Seth Godin books. Simple, short, and to the point. Anything worth doing will have a “dip” that you’ll have to push through. It’s the only way to be exceptional. Either decide it’s worth pushing through the dip to get to the other side before you start, or don’t even begin at all. Quitting in the dip means you’re not getting any benefit from whatever you start. But you also need to know when that dip is just a dead-end. You can only get so many projects through the dip so pick wisely and focus.
Getting Past No
An excellent book that breaks tough negotiating down into 5 key steps. Highly recommend for everyone.
The Effortless Experience
Everyone wants to “delight” customers and build a Zappos-like customer service team. But does this really provide a positive ROI? This book shows you why it doesn’t. The biggest returns from customer service come from being able to permanently solve problems by ensuring customers don’t have to call back about tangentially related issues (which is different from first-call resolution) and to make sure customers don’t have to jump between multiple channels or people in order to get their issue resolved. In other words, we don’t need to role out a VIP experience, we need to focus on solving problems quickly, permanently, and with the least amount of effort from customers. Investment in customer service beyond this point isn’t worth it. Lots of great tactics and frameworks that you’ll be able to apply to your own business.
The Everything Store
A solid look at the history behind Amazon. I don’t know any of the inside story so I have no idea if there’s major errors or not. But it seems pretty even-handed. Credit is given where it’s due and the critiques of Bezos and Amazon also seem reasonable. If you’re in tech, you should definitely read it.
No Man’s Land
I’m now on my second company that’s trying to go from 20 people to 100+. This book is spot on with how difficult this stage is. You’re way too big to operate like a small team. But you have none of the resources, processes, and culture to support a more complex operation. What’s even worse, you either get to the other side and build a stable, large company or you fail and have to cut back to a small team. This is exactly what I’ve seen myself. Not only is this stage super stressful for the entire team, you either make it or you have to pull back entirely. Very few managers and founders acknowledge how high the stakes are during this stage. Highly recommended if you’re involved with startups.
Content Marketing Playbook
I have a lot of respect for Sujan Patel but this feels like a length blog post or “Ultimate Guide” that was turned into an ebook to target Amazon search rankings. The content is very basic and a bit superficial. Skip it.
This is one of those armchair strategy books that give business books a bad name. The authors take three iconic leaders (Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs), attempt to simplify the key decisions of their respective companies, and then put together a set of frameworks that other founders and teams should abide by. The analysis is so bad that I stopped highlighting and taking notes halfway through the book. For example, they claim that the Apple Watch doesn’t adhere to their “platform over product” strategy. Since the Apple Watch is restricted to iPhone users, it’ll never achieve the success that it could if it was truly an open platform. The authors also frequently claim that Android won the smartphone market because it has more market share. So the Apple Watch should follow the Android example and pursue raw market share. Sure, Android has the largest user base but the vast majority of the smartphone profit share goes to Apple. And Apple has never pursued market share at the expense of profit. When the authors miss these obvious counterpoints, it’s pretty hard to take their frameworks seriously.
Talent is Overrated
One of the core books that pushes the 10,000 hour rule: it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become world-class in a given field. And even child “prodigies” aren’t really prodigies, they just started earlier. But he 10,000 hours have to be deliberate practice. This is challenging practice that demands your full concentration. If it feels easy or fun, it’s not deliberate practice. When people spend 10 years in a field and haven’t improved their skills, it’s because they weren’t doing deliberate practice. So make sure that you’re challenging yourself for 4-6 hours of each day if you want to keep growing as quickly as possible.
The Upside of Stress
Stress isn’t nearly as harmful as many of us believe. It’s actually the mindset that we have towards stress that causes problems. If we believe it’s harmful, it is. If not, we find ways to manage it without any measurable impact on health or longevity. Either way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s lots of great tips and tactics on better ways to approach stress in this book. Highly recommended if you’re regularly pushing your own limits.
Think Like a Freak
A few good tips. But if you’ve spent a bunch of time learning about behavioral psychology, persuasion, and mental models, you won’t find anything new with this book.
The Drunkard’s Walk
If you haven’t spent much time studying probability, this book is a good intro. Not much new ground though, I’d only pick it up the subject is new for you.
I had high hopes for this book. Google has a reputation for being an amazing place to work and I expected the inside story on how they managed to pull that off. Written by the Senior VP of People Operations, who better to tell it? There are some good anecdotes and principles but much of the book seems a bit superficial. Every problem comes to a clean and tidy resolution. Failures are glossed over, even with an entire chapter dedicated to them. The whole book feels like the PR-approved version instead of the real story on how to build a world-class support structure for your employees. And since the stories don’t feel completely authentic, the frameworks also feel like they’re missing key pieces of what it took to work through the unflattering failures. You’ll get a few tips from this book but it’s not groundbreaking.
The Mythical Man-Month
Still a classic. It’s a bit dated but there’s two critical concepts that you’ll learn from it. First, throwing bodies at projects doesn’t produce the increase in efficiency that you think it will. Onboarding overhead, and increased demands for communication mean that productivity does not increase linearly. Remember this when you’re trying to scale up resources for a project. Second, projects should be separated into implementation and architect functions. The architect owns the integrity of the project, making sure that everything fits into a cohesive whole. Since this is easily a full-time job, it needs to be separated from managing the day-to-day of implementation. I’ve worked on several projects where I wish we had done this.
The Soul of a New Machine
A detailed account on how a team at Data General built a new minicomupter in the 1970’s. An interesting read if you want to know more about the history of tech.
Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing
A solid intro that covers all the core areas of investing. It summarizes most of the key points and strategies from the community at bogleheads.org which is one of the most well-respected investing forums.
Agile Estimating and Planning
If you’re managing long-term product roadmaps, you need to read this book. It’s the most thorough discussion of agile planning that I’ve found. Most teams suffer severe product delays, last-minute crunches to ship anything, and grid-lock themselves into a corner. Don’t be that team. Make sure your product workflows are world-class, this book will help you get there.
If you’re new to the whole startup thing, use this book to get up to speed. It has a good overview on many of the core startup frameworks (lean, customer development, the pirate metrics, etc). But it doesn’t really add anything new if you’re already familiar with all this. I’d skip it unless you’re just beginning.
Lean from the Trenches
The best overview I’ve found on how to use kanban for tech work (most books out there focus on manufacturing). It has a great balance between going through the principles of kanban while also giving you plenty of tactical tips so you can implement it yourself. Also lots of great real-world examples. I’m quickly becoming a kanban devotee and this is the best intro book I’ve found so far. Highly recommended.
Triumph of the City
Supposedly, this is the book that inspired Tony Hsieh to rebuild downtown Las Vegas. Having lived in Las Vegas and seen the Downtown Project myself, I wanted to see what inspired the project. There’s plenty of solid expertise and research in this book, you won’t look at cities and suburbs that same way. But I would be careful with some of the policy prescriptions, the author gets pretty specific with recommendations in domains that he’s not nearly as familiar with (like education).
Some good ideas for running your own agile/scrum/kanaban systems but this book assumes you already have deep experience with these frameworks. It also doesn’t have the best structure, it jumps between topics pretty randomly. If you pick it up, expect a few tactical take-aways but don’t expect any frameworks that will reshape how you run your teams.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Building strong and effective teams is immensely difficult. Small differences in how teams operate day-to-day completely determine the potential of your business. And when you’re building a team yourself, how do you decide which behaviors and habits to instill in your team? You can’t expect everything so what are the few core traits you should focus on? This book tells you. It’s written as a narrative with an explanation of the framework at the end. I’d consider it required reading if you’re leading a team.
The Joy of X
A good review on many of the core concepts in math. Honestly, I was hoping for more from this book. There’s a few great insights but I wouldn’t say that I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty behind mathematics.
The Lessons of History
This book was recommended by Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater which is the largest hedge fund. I didn’t get much out of it. If you’ve had a solid liberal arts education, you won’t find anything in this book that groundbreaking.
Learn or Die
This book was a bit of a disappointment. It doesn’t introduce any unique research or frameworks, it’s mostly just a review of other research that’s already been done. It also stays at a pretty high and generic level, not much depth on any particular item. For example, it’ll tell you to hire people that like learning but won’t go into the best ways to do it. The book is still worth grabbing just for the chapter on Bridgewater (the largest hedge fund currently). Their internal processes and values are fascinating. But the rest of the book can be easily skipped.
The Robert Collier Letter Book
Lots of good examples of classic direct response sales letters. There isn’t much analysis though, so don’t expect any frameworks to improve your own copywriting. Treat it as an old-school swipe file. Also, don’t grab the Kindle version, the formatting is all messed up. Get a paperback copy.
MONEY Master the Game
The latest book from Tony Robbins. There’s lots of classic investment advice (avoid mutual funds, get your investment fees as low as possible, diversify, etc) that’s communicated in a really easy to understand way. But Tony jumps into a lot of advanced topics without a thorough breakdown on those exact recommendations. Complicated annuities and the all weather portfolio being two examples. He makes a lot of lofty promises like having income for life and beating the S&P 500 without any extra risk. But some googling brings up a lot of nuance and counter-points to these strategies that Tony never fully addressed.
The Score Takes Care of Itself
Not a ton of depth with this one. Granted, Bill Walsh’s achievements are amazing. Taking the San Francisco 49ers from the worst team in the NFL to Superbowl Champions in 3 seasons is no small feat. The book is a series of short chapters, each describes one of Walsh’s leadership lessons and has a few stories to go with it. A good read but not as ground-breaking as I was hoping for.
The High-Velocity Edge
Copying strategies and tactics will always leave you a step behind. By the time you’ve implemented them, the leaders in your space will have already found new ones. Do you want to be a leader or do you always want to be a step behind? The High Velocity Edge breaks down the internal processes of what it takes to be a leader: making problems visible, high-speed iteration, spreading learning throughout your team, and developing your team as much as possible. High-speed iteration has become one of the tenets of my own management style.
The Value of Debt
I’m not going to lie, debt scares the hell out of me. I do whatever I can to avoid taking on even small amounts of debt. But this book makes a solid case for holding 15-35% of your net worth as debt. Most of the strategies in this book only apply to wealthy individuals ($1 million in assets and above), I still found it useful for learning how to use debt intelligently.
The Last Place on Earth
A fascinating account of the race to the South Pole. Even if you’re not typically into books on exploration, it’s still a great analysis on what it takes to build mastery. Two different teams attempted to reach the South Pole during the same season. One team made it look easy and came back without a single problem. The other team not only reached months after the first, they died on the way back. The book goes into the biographies of both expedition leaders (Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott) so you get a detailed understanding of how each leader differed. It’s an amazing case study on what happens to teams that build mastery compared to those that don’t.
This is my new favorite book on copywriting. A really solid framework on the best ways to open any copy and when you should be using each. I’d be shocked if you don’t see an immediate lift in your own copy after reading this book, I’ll be recommending it often.
Million Dollar Consulting
By far the best book I’ve read on building a boutique consulting practice. It’ll show you how to build a practice with massive profit margins (+90%), minimal headcount, and pushing into 7+ figures per year in revenue all while keeping control over your time. If you’re looking to build a massive agency, this isn’t the book for you. You definitely need to read this book if you do any consulting.
If you’re looking to dominate your field, read this book. Lots of great insights on what it actually takes to build mastery.
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger
This book gets recommended frequently as a great resource for improving your thinking. I personally thought it was a bit too simplistic. Also, the added context from the author doesn’t really add much, it would have been a better book if it simply reprinted the most popular Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters. If you haven’t already done a bunch of reading on psychology, biases, probability, and logic, you’ll likely get a few good insights out of the book. But I can’t recommend it as required reading.
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark
A fascinating book on how the high-end art industry works and the economics that drive it.
The Monk and Riddle
A good quick read from a veteran of Silicon Valley, Randy Komisar. It has a few god insights on what it takes to build a company from scratch. But the main point is to stop chasing money and work on a project/company that truly makes you happy. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. All good advice with good stories to illustrate key points.
The hierarchal organization might not be the most impactful approach to building companies. Even if you push decision making down the organization, you’ll still be bloated with overhead, bureaucracy, and processes that impede people’s ability to do great work. The book advocates for an anti-hierarchy (not flat either, a more organic and fluid structure). It’s also been called holacarcy which Zappos and Medium are currently implementing. I don’t have any first-hand experience with it so I can’t speak to how well it actually works. But it’s still an interesting approach you should know about if you’re building organizations yourself.
A very interesting perspective on reason, logic, and the scientific method. In a nutshell: old paradigms can’t truly evaluate new theories because new theories are held to previous standards. And attempting to separate facts from theories doesn’t work, it’s impossible to clearly define an isolated fact. Observations and facts are the function of theories and the current perspective. Instead science is far messier than most people believe. Persuasion, persistence, luck, and chaos are responsible for progress more often than objective reason. Also, progress can’t be limited to single set of procedures. Be warned, this book is pretty heavy and not for the feint of heart.
Scaling Up Excellence
Lots of good tips on how to spread change and high standards through an organization.
A horrible book. The worst part? It could have been so much more and has a decent premise: actions that we take stem from our desire to find suitable mates. So the majority of what we do is the result of us trying to single our own suitability to others. The problem is that the author applies this theory to every single action that has ever occurred. All of them. No exceptions. It’s all a result of signaling. Everything is nail for this single hammer. To make it even worse, the author goes into rants about irrelevant points, takes pot-shots at groups he doesn’t respect, and frequently makes grand claims without any supporting evidence. Skip it.
What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School
A collection of random tips on how to succeed in business. Even though it was written long before blogging, it’s one of the books that feels like a collection of blog posts crammed into a book. Not much depth, there’s plenty of better books out there.
2014 – 70 Total
A very thorough biography of Steve Jobs and well-written. I’ve heard that there were some inaccuracies but I didn’t have a first-hand account of any part of Steve’s or Apple’s story so I’m not in a position to verify one way or the other. Regardless, it’s still an key story of tech and Silicon Valley.
High Output Management
One of the best management books I’ve read with a great balance between strategy and tactics. Required reading for any team lead.
Turn the Ship Around!
Lots of great lessons on leadership and management. David Marquet took one of the worst performing submarines in the US Navy and turned it into one of their best within a year. He did it with the same crew, no prep time, and started when morale was at rock-bottom. Lots of great lessons for how to lead a team and one of my favorite management books.
The story of how high-frequency traders have stripped enormous profits from financial markets without adding any extra value. A fascinating read. If you need a final reason for why you shouldn’t day-trade, this is it.
The Time Paradox
People perceive time completely differently. You either focus on the future, the present, or the past. This completely changes how you go through life and the decisions you make. Some people constantly prepare for the future, others take every chance they have to enjoy the present, and some of us keep remembering the past. Each of us also tends to skew towards one perspective. Not only will this book help you understand why people make different choices than you would, it also helps you better understand how to lead a balanced life. So if you’re future-oriented (like I am), you need to deliberately spend time in the present without trying to prepare for anything in the future. Building regular traditions can also help snap you out of the future orientation and remember good times in the past. Highly recommended.
A solid into to the different channels that you can use for distribution. But it is very much an overview. There’s a tremendous amount of depth and nuance with each channel that is barely touched on.
Business Model Generation
A really basic intro on the basic components of any business model. It’s a decent framework for analyzing businesses but nothing groundbreaking.
The Checklist Manifesto
A great book on the power of checklists and systems. Use them.
Iacocca was responsible for many of the most successful cars at Ford like the Mustang. After a falling out with the Ford family, he was fired and then joined Chrysler which he saved from the edge of bankruptcy. Really fascinating story. He does go on a few tangents about politics but it’s still a solid book.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
A brilliant book about what it takes to be a CEO. Highly recommended.
You’ll find 9 strategies for accelerating progress in this book. They include things like training with masters, rabid feedback, catching waves, and 10x thinking. Each principle has a dedicated chapter with stories to help illustrate it. It’s a quick and entertaining read but lacks any real depth.
Certain to Win
John Boyd revolutionized the US Air Force and is considered by some to be the most influential military strategists since Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. This book reviews Boyd’s OODA loop and helps you apply it within a business setting. It’s one of the most important books on business strategy that I have yet to read.
This is one of those books that should have just been a blog post. Maybe 2-3 blog posts at the most. Not much depth and the book can really be summed up in a single sentence: life-time employment is dead and employers should form an “alliance” with employees while giving them a tour of duty that lasts 2-3 years. There’s a bit more detail than that but not much.
Zero to One
A short book full of great insights on what it takes to build a great startup, many of which contradict prevailing best practices. This is required reading.
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars
When we achieve success, we all over-value our own impact and severely underestimate the role of luck. Many people break rules, get lucky, and think they have the golden touch. But since we haven’t understand what actually produced results, it catches up and we lose it all. Success isn’t even really about finding ways to succeed, it’s about learning how not to lose. Once you have that foundation, you can figure out you own style to succeed. Highly recommended.
A fantastic account of what it took to turn Pixar into the company it is today. It’s also full of insights on how to manage a team. Highly recommended.
Essentials of Accounting
If you want to truly learn the details of accounting, this is a great book to start from. It’s actually a workbook where every point has you do an exercise which is great to completely absorb each concept. But if you’re looking for an overview of accounting or just need an explanation of high-level concepts, there’s much better books available.
An incredibly thorough book on changing your own behavior and psychology, by far the best I’ve found yet. You’ll also get plenty of ideas for how to help others change theirs. Highly recommended.
10 Days to Faster Reading
It includes come basic tips on how to read faster for slower readers. If you already read a a decent pace, this isn’t the book for you. It’s an introduction for speeding up your reading but doesn’t go into a lot of detail on speed reading.
This books commits every business book sin out there. First, the author claims that having a strong purpose to align the company is responsible for many of the greatest successes in the last century. This includes Ford, IBM, Microsoft, Warren Buffet, and others. No evidence is given for this. The author merely gives a basic summary and picks out anecdotal points that support his purpose theory. Additionally, the writing lacks structure and meanders quite a bit. Skip it.
The Path of Least Resistance
You’ll get a few good insights on creativity out of this book. But it goes on quite a few tangents that don’t add much value. It also can’t really decide what it wants to be as a book. It’s a mix of a guide on creativity, a self-help book, and lessons for a struggling artist. The lack of focus prevents it from being great.
Only the Paranoid Survive
An excellent first-hand account of what it takes to survive a wave of disruption in your industry. Intel was originally focused on RAM until it became a commodity and forced them to move into processors. Most companies don’t survive these kinds of transitions. First you need to let chaos reign a bit in your organization and begin experimenting with everything (not just new products but with every part of your organization). But as soon as you find a path to a new industry, you need to focus your team on that vision. This is also excellent advice for startups as they attempt to create a new industry or disrupt an old one.
The Year Without Pants
If you’re interested in how companies like Automattic work, you’ll enjoy the book. But having worked at KISSmetrics (which is about 50% remote) for over two years, I’m not as fascinated with day-to-day accounts of remote work as others might be. It was still great getting a first-hand account of Automattic since I have a great deal of respect for those guys. Also, I’ve never really liked Scott Berkun’s writing. This is the third book of his that I’ve read, I always finish them thinking that the book has so much more potential and never quite got there.
This is considered one of the core books on business strategy for a reason. It’s exceptionally thorough and I highly recommend it. After reading it, you’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of market fundamentals.
A solid overview of the benefits and costs of remote work (and why you should start doing it if you haven’t already). It’s a pretty short book so there isn’t much depth. You’ll still come across some good tactics for transitioning to remote work or negating the few costs. Having worked remotely for over 2 years, everything in the book describes remote work pretty accurately.
Great by Choice
A fantastic book on why some companies achieve extraordinary while other companies that start from the same place remain mediocre. Innovation and luck aren’t as influential as many think. Instead, it’s about obtaining consistent results over long periods of time, sticking to set of operating principles, testing with minimal risk and going big only once you have empirical validation, and making sure that you don’t squander the luck you do get while being able to survive any back luck.
The Art of Learning
An exceptional book on learning and developing mastery. Also a great balance between frameworks and personal stories to help you retain the core principles. Highly recommended.
The Principles of Statistics
A deep dive into the fundamentals of statistics. But it’s pretty heavy on math. If you’re looking for an easier introduction to statistics, check out What is p-value Anyway? or Naked Statistics.
The Sales Bible
A collection of tactics for sales. The book is a string of tactical lists that cover random parts of the sales process, there’s no framework or system to piece it all together. If you’re going pretty deep into sales, you might find a few good tactics to use. But there are much better sales books out there.
The Oz Principle
Regardless of what happens or how much control you actually have, you need to take full responsibility for results and continually ask yourself “What else can I do?” Great piece of advice. The only problem is that this book is horribly written. It’s one of those books that could have been reduced to a 1000 word blog post without losing any value.
The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course
A solid overview on financial reports, it’s a good starting point if you don’t have a finance background.
Turning Numbers into Knowledge
A rudimentary overview of logic, analysis, and critical thinking. Skip it.
The Essential Drucker
You’ll see many references to Drucker’s work (for good reason) and this book includes key chapters from his many books.
Learning from the Future
A complete waste of time. Each chapter is written by a different author and each of them has a slightly different approach to scenario planning. So the entire book becomes disjointed, repetitive, and lacks any core frameworks that you can rely on. There’s also a complete lack of depth on anything. Skip it.
First, Break All the Rules
This is my blueprint on world-class management. If you manage or build teams, you absolutely need to read this book.
The Economist Numbers Guide
A complete waste of time. The book attempts to go as broad as possible and include countless topics. From significant figures to game theory, standard deviations, Monte Carlo simulations, financial projections, compounding interest, and everything in between. Because the scope is so broad, not a single topic gets the attention it really needs for you to walk away with any applicable lessons.
Seeing What’s Next
Clayton Christensen breaks down how to use the theories from The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The previous books focused heavily on developing theory but didn’t go into much depth on how to apply them. If you only read one of them, read this one. It’s the most succinct overview of everything and doesn’t assume you’ve read the first two. But I’d recommend reading all three so you can more integrate these concepts into your own perspective as deeply as possible.
Lead the Field
The only personal development book you’ll ever need. It also mirrors many of the principles I’ve been applying in my own life recently. Much of the book seems like common sense but few people take it to heart. If you do, you’ll have everything you ever wanted. There are no hacks, no tricks, and no shortcuts. Just a steady and reliable path to success. Highly recommended.
How to Read a Financial Report
A great intro to your three core financial reports: income statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet. The book is concise, has plenty of depth, and is clearly written. So if you wan to learn more about finance, it’s a great place to start.
Making Sense of Behavior
An introduction to Perceptual Control Theory. Instead of assuming people attempt to control objective reality, we control our perceptions. When our perceptions are out of alignment with our expectations, we act to reduce the error. And higher levels of perception dictate the goals of lower systems which drive action at that level. Conflicts arise when people’s perceptions oppose one another and people have goals that cannot be met simultaneously. The only way to resolve problems is to move to a level where goals are being defined for those involved. Then the goals need to change so they’re no longer at odds.
Green to Gold
Probably the most poorly written and structured business I have yet to read. Even worse, it’s full of generic advice that’s nothing more than cliche platitudes. It’s repetitive and a complete waste of time. Which is a shame because building businesses within environmental constraints will become an increasingly important topic. But this book falls far short of providing any helpful guidance. Go out of your way to avoid this book.
Four Steps to the Epiphany
Definitely a classic of entrepreneurship. If you’re looking for the authoritative step-by-step framework for how to get a business off the ground, this is it.
How to Make Millions with Your Ideas
A collection of various business stories/lessons from Dan Kennedy’s career. But there’s no framework or system to pull them together, it’s just a list of random lessons. It’s an interesting read but not essential. If you’re a fan of Dan Kennedy, grab a copy. If not, skip it.
The metrics in this book are most useful to corporate marketers working at Fortune 500 consumer companies. There’s nothing here for startups or B2B. And the online section is laughable. It’s a good reference if you’re forced to use the corporate marketing metrics. Otherwise skip it.
Bankable Business Plans
If you need to write a business plan, this book outlines would you should include. But there’s little reason to read it otherwise.
The New Business Road Test
A decent framework for how to evaluate your new business idea before you start committing resources. But much of the book was redundant, it could have been cut by 75% without losing any depth. Many of it’s “case studies” loosely demonstrated lessons and were a bit reductionist. This should have just been a lengthy blog post.
The Partnership Charter
A great overview of everything you should keep in mind before entering a partnership. Not only should you sort through each issue, you should work with your partners and document your decisions in a partnership charter. This will avoid many of the potential pitfalls that partnerships fall into. If and when I enter one myself, I’ll definitely re-read this book.
A good overview of how to approach negotiations. While most of us focus on what happens during the negotiation itself, the biggest wins come from the preparation. Specifically, it’s critically important to identify the core interests of the other party, sequence the setup in your favor, and find agreements that increase the value for both parties (instead of getting stuck in a zero sum game).
It gives a high-level introduction to lean manufacturing and then goes into a lot of detail on a few case studies. Most importantly, the majority of work performed on most products doesn’t add any value that the customer cares about. So lean methods strip systems down to their core, eliminate all wasteful effort, and focus on getting materials to flow through the entire system exactly when they’re needed. Expediting and stored inventory are signs that your processes aren’t as efficient as they could be. This sounds obvious but it’s incredibly easy for internal processes to waste a great deal of time and effort. Lean processes and systems aren’t built by accident.
You Should Test That!
A very basic approach to conversion optimization, it didn’t get anywhere near the depth I was looking for.
Show Me the Numbers
A classic on how to design tables and graphs. If you regularly tell stories with data, you need to read this book. It’s a little heavy but well worth it.
Go It Alone
A fantastic book on what it takes to build a go-it-alone business as a solo-preneur. Instead of building a lifestytle business with minimal work commitments, this approach focuses on scalable systems, ruthless outsourcing, constantly experimenting, and keeping pace with markets/customers to build a business for yourself. This is exactly what I want to build.
Using freewriting to clarify your thoughts and produce better writing is a great idea and I’ll be experimenting with it more. But this book should have been reduced to a single blog post. Skip it.
Universal Principles of Design
125 design principles are covered in this book, each is given about 2 pages. So it’s an excellent overview of the field but it doesn’t go into enough depth on an single topic. You won’t finish it feeling like you’re a more capable designer, you’ll just be more familiar with random design concepts.
The Simplicity Survival Handbook
A few good tips but not a groundbreaking book even though the subject is critically important. In our careers, it’s easy to become overloaded and take on too many projects. You’ll need to be able to bring clarity to any issue, focus on the few goals that actually matter, and politely push back on extraneous tasks. This is another one of those tips that sound obvious but are easy to forget when you’re grinding it out.
The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan
This book outlines your main priorities when joining a new company as a senior leader. First, start meeting with key players BEFORE your official start date so you can hit the ground running on day run. Also define your burning imperative (a combination of vision, mission, values, and objectives) so your team knows exactly what to focus on. Then over-invest in a few projects that have a high priority to deliver early wins within the first 100 days. Simple? Yes. How many new leaders execute at this level? Not many.
What is p-value Anyway?
A solid introduction to statistics, p-values, regressions, and the most common mistakes made when working with data. If you’re looking to get a better understanding of statistics and you don’t have a deep background in quantitative fields, it’s a great book to start with.
A bland a generic approach to making decisions. Skip it.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
As we move into positions of leadership, small aspects of our personalities can severely limit how willing other people are to help us. And without the support of our team, we’ll only be able to go so far. Being a great manager/leader isn’t just about doing the right things, it’s also about avoiding the personality flaws that drive people away. This book covers the main faults that prevent people from achieving further success in their career and breaks down a strategy for how to implement long-term change. Highly recommended for anyone looking to become a better manager or team leader.
Escape from Cubicle Nation
A good book for people that haven’t been involved with startups, freelancing, or building their own projects. If you’re in the corporate world and think starting a business is terrifying, you’ll get some good encouragement from it. But everyone else can skip it.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Still a classic. A lot of the tactics in the book may seem logical but most people (including myself) don’t do them nearly as often as we should. Unlike other self-help books which are too generic to be helpful, this one gives plenty of tips that you can put to good use.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Easily one of the classics of entrepreneurial theory, definitely up there with The Innovator’s Dilemma. Drucker breaks down the main sources for innovation, strategies for exploiting them, and best practices for managing a new venture. Highly recommends, I’m actually surprised this book doesn’t get referenced more often.
The Unwritten Laws of Business
And excellent and short overview of the key principles that should guide your day-to-day behavior in the workplace. I completely agree with each law in this book.
The Creative Habit
Plenty of practical tips on how to faster a life of creativity and obtain mastery of your field. Twyla Tharp is a renowned dance choreographer and breaks down the most important lessons she’s learned throughout her career. All of these lessons are just as relevant to business.
Getting Things Done
A pretty solid approach to productivity. The system breaks down into a few key steps. First, get every to-do, project, and commitment written down. No exceptions. As you document each task, define the next action step that needs to be taken in order to move it forward. This needs to be done upfront. At daily and weekly intervals, review your tasks. The book goes into a lot more detail and outlines a specific system for how to execute on this. While I won’t be implementing these principles in the exact way they’re outlined in the book, it’s one of the only approaches to productivity that I’ve been excited to implement.
The Innovator’s Solution
A absolutely phenomenal book. Whereas The Innovator’s Dilemma goes into great detail on the theory behind market disruption, The Innovator’s Solution outlines a process for harnessing disruption. Not only can you use this book to build a new disruptive company, you’ll learn how to build a disruptive growth machine at an established corporation.
Ethics for the Real World
Probably the worst book on this list. Their ethical framework boils down to this: develop your ethical code and practice adhering to it. Seriously, that’s as deep as it gets. Even worse, the writing is awful. There’s no structure to the book, endless tangents, and logical errors with every point. Avoid reading this book at all costs.
By far the best book I’ve read on how to tell an amazing story. It’s actually targeted to screenwriters but anyone trying to communicate effectively will get a ton of value from it. Why stories? We communicate in stories and the best marketing uses them to persuade markets. Countless marketers tell you that you need to tell a story. But very few of them understand how to actually do it. This book will show you how.
Blue Ocean Strategy
Most companies focus on competing directly in their market in a zero-sum game. These are red oceans. Instead, companies should focus on creating new markets that don’t have any competitors, blue oceans. Plenty of great frameworks to help you think through the strategy of your own company and create blue oceans.
2013 – 50 Total
Work the System
A decent primer on how to apply systems-thinking in management. Use tools to automate any process you can and use documentation for everything else. Employees should be expected to follow documentation exactly (no exceptions). And to avoid bureaucratic traps, make sure you can update documentation immediately whenever an improvement is decided on. But the book repeats itself a lot while wondering into all sorts of tangents. This could have been a business classic but it’s not quite there even after the third edition.
The book is just a series of tips for each stage of the hiring process. You’ll pick up a few good one’s but there’s nothing earth-shattering here.
So this isn’t really a book. When you purchase it, you get an access code to an online test that tells you what your top 5 strengths are. The book is just a description of each possible strength. Once you know what yours are, you can read a few pages on each one. It’s pretty accurate and is a good way to validate your own assumptions about where you excel. I do wish that the action items on how to capitalize on your strengths went into more detail. It also doesn’t go into any detail on what kind of career paths would be a good fit for your combination of strengths. You’re left to figure that out on your own.
Save the Cat!
If you’re looking to get a better understanding for how to write great stories, you should take lessons from screenwriters. And this is one of the more popular screenwriting books at the moment. It breaks down the ideal formula for any movie (and any story for that matter) which also explains why Hollywood movies seem identical. They follow the same formula.
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Another great book by Dan Ariely. Basically, very few people take full advantage of any given situation and attempt to cheat to the maximum possible degree. But we all cheat a little bit when the situation presents itself. This allows us tip the scales while still believing that we’re fundamentally good people. While there are a few people that attempt to take full advantage of others, most damage is done in aggregate from us all cheating a little bit.
Diffusion of Innovations
This is one of the core textbooks in the field of diffusion research. Many innovation frameworks from tech come from Everett Rogers’ work and this book. Early adopters vs laggards, the adoption curve, and the importance of opinion leaders all come from here. It’s definitely a classic, be sure to pick it up if you’re looking for a fundamental understanding of how innovations spread. Most importantly, marketing is rarely responsible for driving innovation. It’s great at getting the initial attention of innovators and early adopters. But after that, continued adoption of your innovation will depend heavily on word-of-mouth.
A great introduction to statistics that covers the main concepts you’ll encounter without getting too technical. If you’re working with data and come from a business background (instead of a stats background), definitely pick up this book.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street
Since it’s not possible to beat the market over long periods of time, the most reliable returns come from a diversified portfolio of index funds. While it is possible to beat the market marginally, taxes and brokerage fees will quickly consume any of your gains. This advice is in a lot of personal investing books. It’s a good book to start with and one of the classics in the field.
The Halo Effect
An amazing book which lists the most common ways that people use data incorrectly in management. Not only do managers make these mistakes, many of the most popular business books make them too. Easily one of the most insightful books I’ve read this year.
Some good insights here and there. But the book gives a broad overview of business as a whole and ends up not going into much depth on anything. A good introduction to business but definitely not an essential read.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
An excellent framework for approaching strategy. First start by diagnosing your primary problem, then put together your overall direction, then define the actions that you’ll take to get yourself there. It sounds simple but very people put together a coherent strategy that includes each element.
Sources of Power
An excellent book on how experts make effective decisions. Contrary to popular opinion, very few people use rational systems for decision. Instead, people recognize patterns, rotate through options until they find a good fit, and use instinct for the most part. And for the most part, the quality of decisions are high for experts. But the only way to become an expert is to spend a great deal of time in a given field. Step-by-step decision frameworks work better for novices because they haven’t built a deep source of experience to pull patterns from.
Why We Buy
If you’re in retail, you’ll find plenty of ideas for optimizing your store. But online marketers won’t gain much from this book. It’s interesting but not essential.
More of a shelf-help book than a leadership one. And a superficial one at that. Skip it.
Definitely a business classic. The main take-home is that the components of a system cannot be improved in isolation. Every system has a few key bottle-necks that completely determine the output of the system as a whole. Even if it means making other components inefficient, you should do everything in your power to reduce the constraints from these bottle-necks.
Growing Great Employees
A fairly superficial introduction to management. There’s a few good insights like giving candidates scenarios during interviews but there isn’t much depth overall. You can safely skip it.
A detailed and well-researched dive into the data problems of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a pretty damning report of how flawed drug testing is. There’s also fascinating insights into how many ways data can get manipulated (ending drug trials early, a psychological bias to publish statistically significant results more frequently, conflicts of interest from corporate funding, using ideal patients in trials, etc).
A former VP of Sales from Salesforce explains how they got to their first $100 million in sales. I highly recommend anyone at a startup with a sales team read this book. And if you’re a SaaS company with a sales team, this is required reading. Stop what you’re doing and grab a copy right now.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
An interesting book an neurological disorders but I wouldn’t consider it essential reading.
Growth Hacker Marketing
This is a short and basic intro to growth hacking. If you don’t have a good idea of what the field is all about or how it differs from traditional marketing, this is a good way to get up to speed. But if you’re already in the trenches, it’s not going to teach you anything you don’t already know.
Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing
This is a very basic intro to direct response marketing. There are much better books out there like Breakthrough Advertising, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, Scientific Advertising, and Tested Advertising Methods. And the sections on digital marketing are very weak. Skip it.
Stumbling on Happiness
A great overview of the flaws in our psychology that keep us from accurately predicting our own happiness. Both our imaginations and our memories consistently lead us astray. In fact, the only way to judge if a decision will make you happier is to ask someone else how they currently feel having made the same decision.
Online Marketing Simulations
A short and great guide to the type of analysis you should be doing on your marketing channels. Measuring conversion rates and revenue generated is not enough. You need to know which channels produce the best customers over the long term, which product categories match the best for those channels, and how channel/merchandise behavior changes with the customer lifecycle. The book even includes a sample Excel doc and the code you’d need to run this analysis on your own customer database.
Making Things Happen
A good intro book to project management but isn’t groundbreaking. Scott Berkun has a tendency to talk about everything without being able to focus on specific points. So you come away with random tidbits and tactics that may help you in random places. But there isn’t anything that will completely change the way you manage projects.
12: The Elements of Great Managing
This is a perfect introduction to management. If you’re about to step into a leadership role for the first time, I highly recommend this book. It’ll give you a much better understanding of what your responsibilities and day-to-day will be like.
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto
The story of how one of the most successful video game developers came to be. Always fascinating to see where an industry-changing company came from and how it overcame challenges while growing.
Who: The A Method for Hiring
A straight-forward process for hiring people that greatly increases your success. Considering how important recruiting is for any business, the last thing you want to do is guess your way through it.
A great followup to Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Depending on your position in your market, you’ll need to execute a marketing strategy of defense, an offensive attack on the leader, flank the leader’s position, or use a guerrilla strategy. But the book could probably get condensed into a lengthy blog post without sacrificing any depth.
A pretty superficial overview of the triggers that make a brand more fascinating. Skip it.
If you want to do any consulting, you absolutely must read this book. It also covers my favorite approach to pricing. While it is possible to build a very successful business that competes on price, I would much rather build a business that competes on value and prices accordingly.
Most systems that we design are fragile. When volatility occurs (and it always occurs more frequently than we think it will), they fail. The economy, most people’s careers, nations, etc are all fragile. You’ll do much better if you build systems that actually benefit from volatility. These systems are antifragile. Highly recommended.
The Black Swan
An absolutely essential book to understanding probability and uncertainty. Everything of consequence is the result of completely unpredictable events, black swans. You can’t control them and you can’t predict them. If you want to build a successful business, you’ll need to understand the difference between bell curves and long tails. Most of our lives are spent in the long tail.
The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing
A complete waste of time. Not only is it an incredibly superficial overview of email marketing, there aren’t any helpful frameworks, tactics, or processes. Most of the content of the book consists of “This company used this email campaign, you could too! Or don’t, it might not work. Do what’s right for your business!”
If you want to make yourself or your organization happier, it’s best to spend money on experiences, to buy time, to pay now while consuming later, and to invest in others. Focusing solely on yourself and material things won’t bring you the same amount of happiness. A great, quick read.
An even better book on brand positioning than The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Stop whatever you’re doing and read this book right now. If you don’t, you’ll get crushed by someone who did.
The Master Switch
A fantastic dive into the history of information industries (the telegraph, phones, television, radio, and now the internet). As each new industry grows, corporations eventually consolidate their power and severely restrict what’s available. And without proper safeguards, someone’s bound to bring the internet under their control. While I definitely agree that there is an opportunity for a company to dominate the internet and sacrifice it’s flexibility in the name of profit, Tim Wu has simplified his reading of history a bit too much. For example, he lumps Hollywood in with theses other industries but neglects industries like book publishing, newspapers, and music. He also pits Apple as the domineering tech company against the “open” philosophy of Google. Even though Google has a reputation of being “open,” many of their industry practices are very closed (search for example). So it’s a great overview of the telecommunications industries but I’m not 100% sold on all of his conclusions. That being said, most industries tend to consolidate as they age, there’s no reason we should expect otherwise when it comes to the internet.
The Signal and the Noise
It’s incredibly easy to find patterns in the noise of our data instead of finding the signal that can actually help us predict likely outcomes. This is why most predictions fail. They pick up on patterns that are simply random correlations. The only way to improve our predictions is to turn our models into hypotheses, make predictions based on those models, and refine them over time as we gain new evidence. And you’ll never be able to eliminate uncertainty, all outcomes are subject to a degree of variance. In fact, making over-confident predictions is one of the primary ways that predictions fail. Highly recommended.
Myths of Innovation
This book is a collection of essays on innovation. It’s a great introduction to the topic but lacks depth.
Playing to Win
I haven’t gone that deep into high-level business strategy but the framework in this book looks solid. Clear, concise, flexible, and has a clear path for implementation. If you’re responsible for the major decisions of your company (what markets to pursue and how to do it), definitely grab this book.
This is a fantastic book for understanding the mindset behind using metrics to measure progress in a startup or small-to-medium business. You’ll get a lot of value from it if you haven’t already spent much time with analytics or the lean startup methodology. If you have experience in both, you’ll probably find a lot of the book to be review.
Results Without Authority
If you’re a project manager in a large company with plenty of bureaucracy, this book will give you some ideas for how to move your project forward. For smaller teams, skip it.
The Talent Code
Talent isn’t the result of some innate quality. It comes from have spent countless hours refining a skill in deep practice. When we practice, we strengthen the myelin of our brain which increases the speed of our thoughts and actions. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes from (spending 10,000 hours doing something will make you a master at it). But not all practice is the same. We need to take on new challenges and make mistakes in order to keep growing. And having great coaches and a source of passion can help us stay on track over the long term.
The Social Animal
This is one of the most well-respected books in social psychology. And it gives an amazing overview of the most influential studies from the field. Since business is fundamentally about people, you absolutely need to read this book. It may be a text book but it’s a relatively easy read compared to others.
One of the single best books on copy and marketing. Period. Many consider this to be THE book on copy and it lives up to its reputation. It can be pretty hard to find but you need to get your hands on it.
The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing
This is a conventional business text book written for managers at large companies. It’s pretty dense and you’ll need to pick out the few key insights if you’re working at small or medium-sized company. Most people can safely skip it.
The Challenger Sale
Possibly one of the most important books in sales and is my new favorite book in the field. Most experienced sales reps execute a sale by digging into the needs of a client with open ended questions. Then they personalize the offer and explain how the product meets their needs. But this standard process is no longer the most effective approach. Instead, reps should be teaching insights that clients were previously unaware of. Then the product is positioned as the solution.
Age of Propaganda
Great overview of many studies on persuasion. There’s plenty of great insights that you’ll be able to apply to your own marketing. But the recommendations on policy to make the public more resistant to propaganda are pretty weak.
If you’re planning on raising a round of funding for your startup, you absolutely need to read this book. There’s no better resource that will walk you through how to close a deal with a VC. And make sure you pick up the second edition.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The most common piece of career advice is to “follow your passion.” But this is a terrible idea. People that try to follow their passion end up bouncing from job-to-job feeling unfulfilled. Genuine passion only comes AFTER you’ve gotten incredibly good at something. If you want to lead an amazing career that you love, your best bet is to put in the time and build a deep skill-set in an area that others find incredibly valuable. The passion will follow. This is the best framework for building a career that I’ve found yet. Highly recommended.
The Long Tail
The past half century was dominated by hits. Hit songs, books, movies, and businesses. Because of the cost required to ship and provide products, it only made sense to provide products that everyone would like (even if they didn’t love it). Now that the internet has radically reduced those costs, incredibly obscure products can turn a profit. Serving the long tail has now become a viable business model. This book is required reading for any entrepreneur, especially if you’re in tech.
2012 – 68 Total
Sell More Software
This is a collection of blog posts from Patrick McKenzie. He puts out top-notch stuff and I highly recommend you follow his blog. But for the most part, there isn’t much in this book that you won’t find after an afternoon on his blog. And if you’ve been following him awhile, you’ll recognize many of the blog posts.
A solid intro to the App Store and what you’ll need to focus on in order to generate revenue from your app. I might be doing some mobile marketing in the future and I now have a list of tactics to use. But this is definitely a short, intro book. Don’t expect a deep dive into marketing, app development, or mobile marketing.
The 48 Laws of Power
Each law is covered in depth and includes a summary of the law, historical examples of the law being used successfully, examples of when it wasn’t used, a detailed breakdown for how the law works, and a an explanation on when you shouldn’t follow the law. The entire book follows a fairly rigid structure and gets a little dry by the end. And while I don’t necessarily agree with all the laws, you should be following many of them if you want to succeed.
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
A classic book on copywriting written by one of the masters, Joseph Sugarman. Copies can be a little hard to find but I highly recommend you pick one up. His style isn’t as formulaic as others. Most of his ads start off with a curiosity hook which plays into a story. Once you’re hooked into the ad, he covers the benefits, features, price, and guarantee to get you to purchase. I’ll definitely be playing with this approach more.
Hillstrom’s Email Marketing Excellence
This is the single best book on analytics I’ve ever read. And there’s no better resource for learning how to calculate the value of your email marketing. Seriously, these frameworks are decades ahead of the analytics industry and will show you how to find the actual ROI of your marketing. It’s a super quick read so grab it right now.
The Thank You Economy
If you’re completely new to this social media thing, you should read this book. But if you’re not, most of this book will tell you what you already know. And if you’re seen several of Gary’s keynotes (which you should definitely check out), there’s little reason to pick this book up.
Advanced Google AdWords
Despite the title, this book is more of an introduction to how AdWords works. There are plenty of topics that Geddes doesn’t get into like how to get a free advertising grant from Google for non-profits or how to deal with product categories that have restrictions on them (like gambling). If you’re just getting into AdWords, this is the most authoritative book on the subject but it doesn’t get as advanced as you hope it will. And if you want to get the AdWords cert, this will serve as a great study-guide.
How Will You Measure Your Life?
Good but not great. Clayton Christensen and the co-authors use several business theories to demonstrate how to live a more fulfilling life. The subject of his advice is split equally between business, the individual, and the family. Even though there’s a few great insights, there just isn’t enough depth.
Fantastic book. In American culture, we idolize the extrovert. But many of us are introverts and have very different temperaments. Instead of gaining energy from people, introverts gain energy by being alone. And in order to be happy, they’ll need to structure their lives and careers completely differently. Even if you’re not an introvert, I highly recommend you read this book. It will help you immensely when working with you colleagues and understanding your own strengths. If you’re wondering, I’m very much an introvert.
Carrots and sticks are not the best way to motivate people. You’ll increase short term motivation at the cost of killing long term motivation and reducing creativity. Only pursue this strategy if your employees have mundane and repetitive jobs. To truly motivate people, we need to focus on providing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Even if you’re not a hiring manager, you should still read this book to better understand what kind of environments will keep you motivated.
We are not the perfectly rational people that the field of economics assumes we are. Price, free stuff, ownership, and expectations have a massive impact on our decisions. Since understanding the irrationality of markets is essential to building a business, you should definitely read this book.
Secrets of Consulting
You’ll find a series of stories and “laws” of consulting within this book. There’s a few good anecdotes but most of the book is just okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
All Marketers Are Liars
This is a great introduction to the field of marketing. Highly recommended for beginners. But if you’ve been in the field for awhile and are familiar with Seth Godin’s work, you’ll probably find the majority of the book to be common sense.
It covers a number of companies that excel at customer service and presents 5 elements that every indispensable company has. But Calloway doesn’t provide a structured process for how to implement these same behaviors in your own company. He attempts to explain how the responsibility for figuring this out is on the reader. This is sloppy thinking on his part and is a serious weakness of the book. Skip it.
This book is a great overview of all the psych studies on how people approach price, value, and make decisions. But it’s not ideal for marketers that have to apply these principles. The book has zero structure since it’s broken into 50-some chapters, each featuring a different study. Because of this, the concepts are fragmented and it’ll take some work to synthesis everything from the book. It could have been a fantastic book but it falls short.
Trust Me, I’m Lying
There’s no better place to understand the economics, business models, and motivations behind blogs. If you spend much time building blogs or trying to get featured on them, you need to read this book.
Lead Generation for the Complex Sale
If you’re completely new to the world of sales and marketing, you might find this book useful. But I found it pretty redundant. If I were you, I would skip it. There are much better resources for learning how to do B2B marketing.
This is probably the single best book I’ll ever read on how to pitch. Even though you shouldn’t force a pitch unless you have to (building relationships and looking for deep understanding will take you much further), they’re unavoidable in some circumstances. Before you reach for Power Point or Keynote, make sure you grab this book.
The Art of the Start
This is a great introduction to entrepreneurship. But if you’re already familiar with the lean startup movement, basic principles of product development, and want to dive deep into specific topics to build out your skill set, this probably isn’t the book for you.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
This is a great crash course in the lean startup movement. It focuses on showing you how to validate your business idea as fast as possible. While it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, I was hoping for more detail on how to run customer interviews at different stages of a startup.
The Power of Full Engagement
Most of us measure our productivity by the number of hours we put in. But time is not the best way to measure our output. Instead we should measure our energy levels and make sure that we’re fully engaged while working. As our energy levels start to drop, we need to seek ways to renew that energy and recover. If you want to perform among the best in your field, the key is to balance energy expenditure and recovery through daily rituals.
Work Less, Work More
If you save up enough cash and invest properly, it’s possible to live off your capital gains and retire far earlier than most. It’s an interesting concept but the book was a bit repetitive.
Your Money or Your Life
This book was a complete waste of my time. It focuses on some pretty basic philosophies on how to approach money and doesn’t give much in the way of practical advice. If you’re looking for a solid system to approach your money, I highly recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich over this book.
There are four drives that were fundamental to the development of human progress, culture, and nature: the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn, and the drive to protect. Satisfying these drives is critical to both personal happiness and organizational effectiveness. But the authors rely on a synthesis of other academic work and some overly simplified case studies to build their theory. I’d love to see more empirical results before fully supporting this framework.
While this book goes into detail on how our minds are tricked into overeating, it’s a great resource for understanding the mental tricks that we’re susceptible to. One of the most important skill sets for a marketer is understanding how people think. And you’ll find plenty of examples here.
It’s Not About the Money
By applying a meditation-based approach to money, it’s possible to alleviate anxiety about money for good. But the book was a little too new-age for me. It does cover 8 ways people approach money. Understanding those 8 types and knowing your own financial biases (and the types of your closest friends and family) more than make up for the other shortfalls in the book.
Recommends splitting your portfolio equally between stocks, bonds, gold, and cash. This diversification brings in 9-10% returns annually regardless of the economic climate (recession, inflation, deflation, etc). It’s also one of the simplest strategies to setup and follow. I definitely recommend it.
I was really hoping for a lot more. There’s a few good insights but there’s also a lot of bad advice, especially with the online marketing recommendations. If you understand the importance of churn, lifetime value, and you know how to use basic financial metrics, there’s no reason to pick up this book.
Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs
This is an excellent crash course on how to use finance in a small, growing business. Finance may not be the most exciting topic but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t know how to apply basic financial skills to your business.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Even if you do everything right and manage your company exceptionally well, disruptive innovation can still blindside you. If you have a successful company and want to keep pace with your market (or you want to exploit one), definitely pick this book up. On of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
The Psychology of Selling
Probably the best introduction to sales that I’ve found yet. If you need a crash course on how to sell-effectively, this is the perfect place to start.
If you’re looking to improve your personal or profession relationships, this is a must-read. Some of our conversations are pivotal in our relationships. If we don’t handle them properly, many people will shut us out and avoid working with us. Use these frameworks to build open and trusting relationships with those around you.
How to Lie With Statistics
Numbers easily lie. Learn how to spot statistics that don’t have any validity so you know when to trust the numbers and when to ignore them. A quick read and highly recommended.
Another Seth Godin classic. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to be a leader, you won’t find it here. But it will get you in the right mindset and give you plenty of nuggets to start working from.
Thinking in Systems
Flows, stocks, and feedback loops control how a system functions and what it produces. This book is an excellent introduction to systems thinking and I highly recommend it if you’re trying to build anything (like a business for instance).
There’s a few good insights on how to manage email and information. But for the most part, most of the suggestions are pretty obvious. Skip it.
If you’re building a company and committed to getting the culture right, you need to read this book.
The Power of Less
The most effective way to become more productive is to do less. Cut out the nonessential and focus exclusively on the projects that truly matter. This applies to both business and life. Not only will you be more productive, you’ll also be happier.
A great introduction to how to build a presentation that your audience will actually enjoy.
Bargaining for Advantage
An excellent book on negotiating. A required read for anyone in business.
The Paradox of Choice
More choice doesn’t always lead to happiness. Instead of seeking to maximize the value from each decision, focus on choosing what’s good enough. Then move on with your life. You should also limit the choices your customers have, they’ll have an easier time finding the best option.
This covers the positioning concepts of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by the same authors but with more depth. Choosing the position of your brand/product is the most important decision you’ll make. I highly recommend both.
Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!
Great book for learning how to focus on the key financial metrics of your business. If you don’t have a super clear idea of what your financial goals are (and how to get there), read this book.
Business Analytics for Managers
If you have a data warehouse, a full-time business analyst, and you’ve been tasked for how to build a data-driven company, get this book. Otherwise, you should skip it.
Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
This is the single best book on Google Analytics out there right now. If your business depends on Google Analytics for your KPIs (key metrics), grab this book.
Don’t Make Me Think
This is a classic of web design/web marketing and is referenced frequently.
Presenting to Win
Fantastic book on how to put together a sales deck or PowerPoint presentation.
Web Analytics 2.0
A classic in web analytics, definitely pick it up if you’re measuring your business online.
The Ultimate Webinar Marketing Guide
Webinars do an incredible job at converting prospects into customers. This book will tell you EXACTLY how to do them. Highly recommended.
Covers a few key pitfalls that people run into when analyzing numbers. It’s good but not great.
The Millionaire Next Door
If someone looks like a millionaire, they’re probably racked with debt. Most millionaires ruthlessly cut personal expenses.
Ready, Fire, Aim
This book tells you exactly how to build a business from $0 to $50 million. There are 4 stages of business growth and each has a single priority: sales, product development, organization, and defining your role. Essential reading for every entrepreneur.
How We Decide
Great explanations for how the mind works. If you’re just starting to explore psychology, this is the perfect place to start.
David Ogilvy (the author) is one of the most successful advertising executives. Ever. He’s even called the “father of advertising.” This books covers the lessons he learned after working with many of the largest corporations and producing some of the most well-known ads to date.
The 1% Windfall
A complete guide to pricing strategy. But it won’t tell you how to determine the perfect price, it explains how to provide different prices to different people. You’ll get the most value from this framework if you have a medium or large-size business.
Tested Advertising Methods
By far the single best book on copywriting. Reading this will give you an instant edge in everything you do.
I’m a huge Gary Vaynerchuck fan but this book didn’t have the depth I was hoping for. It explains how to start building a business with social media but doesn’t give a reliable step-by-step process. Instead of providing a strategy, it focuses on encouragement. Skip it and watch Gary’s keynote speeches, they have a ton of insights.
Zappos doesn’t spend any money of marketing, they focus exclusively on customer service. If you want to take that approach, read this book to learn how Zappos got started.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea why this book is so widely read. Skip it.
More Money Than God
An in-depth history of hedge funds. Definitely interesting but won’t directly apply to most businesses.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
A good overview of game theory but not as good as it could have been.
Smashing Book #2
Better than the first but still not that great.
Smashing Book #1
Too much detail in some chapters, not nearly enough in others. It’s basically a series of long blog posts.
Web Analytics: An Hour a Day
While much the this book has become dated, there’s still plenty of useful insights. You’ll get the most use from it if you’re a mid-size to large company.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Incredibly detailed book on how we think. This should be required reading for anyone in business.
After studying the best sales professionals, this book breaks down their process step-by-step. This is your manual for sales. Learn it by heart.
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got
Looking for a great overview of everything that marketing entails? Start here.
Good to Great
This is your step-by-stop guide for how to turn an average organization into one that defines an industry. Highly recommended.
2011 – 39 Total
Everything Is Obvious
Everything seems obvious after the fact which makes us think we can accurately predict the future. We can’t. Focus on predicting the short term and building systems that can quickly adapt to shifting markets.
Getting Started in Consulting
Breaks down the process of starting a consultancy/freelance business and does a fantastic job.
Accounting Made Simple
A super brief intro to accounting. If you hate numbers, this is a great resource to get your feet wet. If you want to get serious with accounting, you’ll be left disappointed.
Working for Yourself
All the gritty legal and accounting details required for a business that’s a one-man-shop.
Marketing without data is silly. Don’t do it.
Read This Before Out Next Meeting
Best tactical advice out there on how to run a meeting.
The Ultimate Sales Machine
If you’re trying to build a sales team, you need to read this book.
A few good insights on what persuades us to buy. But there are better books on the subject.
Complete Web Monitoring
Unfocused and only a few usable insights, I don’t recommend it.
The War of Art
The act of creation can be a brutal process. This book will help you keep moving forward.
We Are All Weird
Mass markets are fragmenting into countless niche markets. There is no more “normal” so embrace the weird and you will profit.
Anything You Want
Derek Sivers (the author) built an incredibly successful business, CD Baby. This book details the lessons he learned along the way.
Do the Work
This is a followup to The War of Art and goes into more depth on the Resistance (the impulse to procrastinate). Your sole objective each and every day is to defeat the Resistance and keep moving towards your goals.
If you have experience with social media, blogs, and internet marketing, you’ll find this book to be very basic. If you’re just getting into internet marketing and need a book to get you started, definitely pick it up.
Made to Stick
Some ideas spread, others don’t. Learn how to make sure your idea is one that spreads, highly recommended.
A quick read with plenty of amazing insight from the founders of 37 Signals. Highly recommended.
The Education of Millionaires
Many millionaire’s never went to college (or high school) and built successful businesses from scratch. This book covers many of their stories and pulls out lessons to apply to your own business.
12 rules for how your brain works. This book will make you more productive and help you communicate better.
The Ultimate Sales Letter
A classic copywriting book. It covers direct mail sales letters at length but there’s plenty of insights for email, landing pages, or any other marketing material that you depend on.
Most marketering attempts to interrupt. But marketing becomes far more powerful when we’ve gained the trust and permission of our prospects.
Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness
Plenty of interesting data but nothing earth-shattering.
The Culture Code
Based on the culture you’re from, you will have deep, emotional reactions to certain messages. If you want your business to succeed, you must tap into the culture codes of your target market. Plenty of US culture codes are discussed in the book.
Launch fast, launch often. You can never get market feedback fast enough and your primary goal is to test all the critical assumptions in your business model. Required reading.
The 80/20 Principle
Most of what you do doesn’t help you. All of your results comes from a fraction of your efforts. Learn how to focus your energy to radically improve the effectiveness of your business. This should be required reading for everyone.
The Design of Everyday Things
Design is not about winning awards. It’s about simplifying people’s lives. Do not discard functionality for aesthetics.
This was the best intro to Google Analytics out there but with the launch of Google Analytics v5, it became a bit dated.
On Writing Well
Remember all those writing rules you learned in high school and college? Forget them. They do you more harm than good. Use this book to actually learn how to write effectively.
This is a marketing classic. Read it, pontificate, then read it two more times. It’s your marketing bible.
A great resource for anyone just getting into copywriting.
Details matter, a lot. Because most people automatically pick the default option for any choice, we must take great care in presenting solutions and building systems.
Want a complete crash course on business? Start here.
Build personas first, THEN optimize your site. With the sheer volume of potential optimization tests you could run, you need a persona to guide you.
Bird by Bird
This book speaks directly to writers but if you do most of your work on you own will, it’ll help you keep moving forward.
The Effective Executive
A business book classic, highly recommended.
I Will Teach You to Be Rich
One of the best personal finance books out there. Use it to automate your finances so you can focus on your business.
Markets change so fast and are now so complex that you can’t systemize an entire business. You need linchpins to keep pace. This book will tell you how to be one.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Over time, all markets consolidate into 2-3 players. And the largest is usually the first. If you’re not first, make sure you know what you’re doing.
The 4 Hour Workweek
Instead of pursuing relentless growth, entrepreneurs have the option to build a lifestyle business. With outsourcing, 80/20 analysis, and batching, this is your guide for how to do it.
Start With Why
I would add one stipulation to the concept of this book: don’t start with your “why,” start with the “why” of your customers.